The Real Reason Creatives Hate Clients

We, as creatives, love to spend a lot of time and energy blaming the client for making our work look bad. There’s thousands of memes, gifs, and blogs out there solely focused on expressing our frustrations with client feedback.

Usually the sentiment is along the lines of “I had such a great idea to begin with, and then the client came in with a bunch of stupid changes and ruined my work. Now I can’t show this on my portfolio.”

We’ve all been there, but we’re pointing the finger in the wrong direction. The real reason why creatives hate clients, is because creatives view themselves as artists, instead of professionals.

Every creative, including myself, wants to be recognized for their work. The problem is that we prioritize this need to serve our portfolios, before we serve the needs of the clients that have hired us to solve their problems.

Real talk: A client will never hire you so you can make a cool piece for your portfolio. They are hiring you because they have a real problem to solve. Drop the Artist Mentality. If you’re a professional, your goal should always be to genuinely serve your clients first.

If you want to make art, great– there’s nothing wrong with that! Don’t accept someone else’s money, and do it on your own dime instead. I promise you, no one will get in your way of making beautiful work for your portfolio.

If you can get rid of this self-placed road block of serving your portfolio — and you can truly empathize with your clients and their needs– then you’ll realize that you’re not on opposing sides. Rather, you’re on the same side in a relationship, trying to solve a problem together.

So how should you work with clients to reduce friction, and stay happy with the results?

Listen & Design With Empathy

Your job as a professional creative, is to listen, clarify, and diagnose a client’s needs and problems, before you prescribe a solution.

Would you rather your doctor:

  1. Spend time with you, asking questions, analyzing your health history, vetting out options and then prescribing a treatment? or
  2. Give you 2 minutes of his time, write you up for pain killers, so he can move onto his next patient?

Spend the time to become a great listener, so together with your client, you can surface their pain-points and create the objectives and parameters that define what success would look like. I go in-depth about becoming a better listener and defining a solution in a previous Medium article “How To Achieve Design Clarity.”

Presenting Work & Getting Better Feedback

When it comes time to present your work, every idea you share should address the objectives that you and your client have identified upfront.

“We made these design decisions because it addresses your objectives A, B, and C” — The Creative Professional

When it comes to evaluating the work, you can talk about feedback in a very objective way, cause you and your client have already defined what a successful solution looks like. You can clearly state how your ideas address their needs, and you become a very valuable partner.

And if you ever feel the need to defend your work, you’ll have a much stronger base to discuss from, instead arguing from the position of “because it looks better that way.”

Redefine Your Relationship With Your Clients

Chris Do has spoken in depth about this topic. Check out his talk to open your mind about your redefining your relationship with your clients, and the key distinctions between an artist and a designer.

I know this maybe a shocker to some, but at some point in your career you’ll realize that the client is NOT your enemy. It took me a while to get there myself. When I finally came around to this realization, I became more empathetic to my clients’ needs, more effective at my job, and have a much happier & productive relationship with all of my clients.

Shift your perspective. Think of yourself as a professional rather than an artist. Measure your success by clients you’ve helped versus portfolio breadth. I guarantee you’ll live a fulfilling creative life, and you’ll actually get along with your clients.

If you want to learn how to become a better creative professional, I highly recommend reading “The Win Without Pitching Manifesto” by Blair Enns. You can purchase it through my Amazon link here. It changed my life and how I view my role as a creative.

If you found this piece valuable, can you do me a favor by recommending it below? Have thoughts? Leave a comment. I’d love to discuss further. Thanks!

About the Author

Matthew Encina is a creative director at Blind, focusing on brand strategy, design and video content. He also authors content on pitching, design, and animation for The Futur Network.

Follow him everywhere @matthewencina

For those of you who have to pitch creative ideas to win business, but are struggling to land these opportunities, check out The Pitch Kit. I created this for those seeking clarity and structure in their design and pitch process.